5          the contemplation of conditionality
This vipassana meditation is an antidote to the `poison' of spiritual ignorance. Through it we examine, and try imaginatively to experience, how `the world' comes into being.
Contemplating conditionality gives us an overview of existence which works upon the mental poison of spiritual ignorance (avijja). This ignorance is far more than simply not knowing: it is our deep-seated tendency not to want to know about the real nature of things.
how things arise

[Ananda:] How deep is this causal law, and how deep it seems!
And yet do I regard it as quite plain to understand!
[The Buddha:] Say not so, Ananda! Say not so! Deep indeed
is this causal law, and deep it appears to be. It is by not knowing,
by not understanding, by not penetrating this doctrine, that this
world of men has become entangled like a ball of twine, become covered
with mildew, become like munja grass and rushes, and unable to pass
beyond the doom of the Waste, the Way of Woe, the Fall, and the Ceaseless
Round (of rebirth).

As Ananda observes in this quotation, the Buddhist teaching of conditionality is in a way very simple. Yet, as the Buddha insists in reply, its implications are vast beyond imagination. We can summarize these by saying that events and objects arise when the appropriate conditions are present. If certain conditions are present then certain events have the potential to arise, and not others. The Buddha summarized the teaching as `this being, that becomes’ - in other words, if this phenomenon arises, then that one may arise on the basis of the first. We tend to think that a thing has just one cause, but in fact every object and event we experience is the product of innumerable different conditions, some immediate to the event's arising, others far away in its historical background.
This applies even to the ideas in your mind at this moment. They, too, are conditioned by innumerable factors. You have these ideas not only because you are reading this book, but also because of many other ideas that you have had, and because of many other books you have read - in fact all the ideas that have ever arisen in your mind have played some part in the evolution of your present set of ideas. Yet all that is just one aspect of the situation. The book itself is conditioned by a seemingly infinite number of factors. This book has come about partly because I wanted to write it - no doubt there are many more factors there! - and partly because there is a certain objective need for it. Again, there are many factors involved in that need. There are many historical and cultural factors, and those factors have to do with the actions, thoughts, and emotions of many generations of individual people. And each one of these conditions has its own conditions, also going infinitely back in time. And in all this great web of conditions, the decisions that you are making now will also contribute their effects, both to your own life and to the lives of other people.
Meditate on this. See the conditions that you experience in your life going further and further back, wider and wider. Reflect how all of them have affected your particular experience of the present moment. Consider how the present moment also carries all that richness with it, and even now conditions the infinite future.
the two modes of conditionality
According to the Buddha, there are two modes of conditionality, two ways in which events can arise. These are represented by the `Wheel of Dependent Origination' and the `Spiral of Liberation'. These describe sequences of change which inevitably occur in our being and consciousness - in the first case when we do not try to develop towards Enlightenment, and in the second case when we do.
The concepts of the Wheel and the Spiral give us an overview on the whole process of conditioned existence and its relation to the realm of the Unconditioned.
the wheel of cyclic existence
The Wheel of Dependent Origination is the closed cycle of conditioning factors within which we normally live - unless we become aware of our situation and make the attempt to break out of it. Summarizing the main conditioning factors, we see that our ignorance of the true nature of things has necessarily led to a particular kind of birth - which has inevitably led, since we have bodies with senses and feelings, to the predicament of craving. This tends to produce an addiction to particular ways of behaving, and over a whole lifetime these habits usually become so entrenched that we never break out of the patterns. The entrenched patterns condition the next life - in which, of course, `we' tend to repeat the same conditions. This cyclic patterning may happen at different levels - some people enjoy happier lives than others - but the cyclic, repetitive tendency may drag us down to lower levels unless our actions somehow prevent that happening.
the spiral of liberation
The spiral of liberation moves upward, representing the fact that this predicament can be transcended. Merely because we have feelings, we do not have to react with the craving, hatred, and other unskilful emotions that bind us to the Wheel. We can break out by developing a positive series of conditions - faith in ourselves, samatha, vipassana, Enlightenment - which support one another to produce more and more happy and insightful states of mind.
This is our human situation in a nutshell.
the meditation
the cyclic and spiral nidanas
In the meditation on conditionality, we dwell on each of these principal links (nidanas), on both the Wheel and the Spiral, having established a good basis of samatha.
Obviously we need to understand roughly what we are doing before we can attempt any useful practice. Ideally, we need to understand the exact meaning of each nidana as well as the relationship between the various nidanas. So considerable thought, further reading,
63 and access to people who can help us clarify any questions that may arise, are all necessary. This does not mean that we cannot engage in the meditation until we completely understand - if that were the case we might never start. Indeed, provided there is some basis of prior reflection, the meditation will feed back and nourish our intellectual understanding. But for the `Dharma seed' to grow, we'll need to acknowledge the incompleteness of our understanding.
As usual, we begin in a good state of concentration and positive emotion. (Ideally we should be in the first dhyana.) We then turn our concentrated attention to the opening nidanas of the Spiral, dwelling upon each one for a while before moving on to the next.
Here is the complete list of both the cyclic and spiral nidanas, with an explanation of each, together with a short description of how both the process of conditioned existence, and the movement towards the unconditioned realm, take place. That explanation will be followed by a simple listing.
the first seven `spiral' nidanas
(1) and (2) In dependence upon
dissatisfaction (dukkha)here meaning an existential dissatisfaction with cyclic existence, and equivalent to the cyclic nidana of feeling - arises faith (saddha), or confidence in the possibilities of spiritual development.
(3) In dependence upon
faith arises joy (pamojja)a feeling of self-respect and good conscience based on the fact that one has now begun to practise the Dharma.
(4) In dependence upon
joy arises rapture (piti) the dhyana factor, described in Chapter Three.
(5) In dependence upon
rapture arises calm (passaddhi). This is the process of `containment' of rapture through bliss - the next nidana - which was also described in Chapter Three.
(6) In dependence upon
calm arises bliss (sukha).
(7) In dependence upon
bliss arises concentration (samadhi). At this point we enter the full dhyana experience.
(8) In dependence upon
concentration arises knowledge and vision of things as they really are (yathabhutananadassana). This is transcendental insight.
As far as possible, reflecting on these links should evoke each one in experience - stages 1 to 7 comprise the establishment of samatha as a basis for stage 8.
To summarize the ideas, we see that in dependence upon the dhyana factors of joy, rapture, calm, and bliss, arises samadhi - the culmination of the process of samatha. Then, going one stage further, we see how the fullness of samatha creates the possibility of developing vipassana.
In the spiral series, each succeeding link cannot arise automatically - it has to be developed with conscious effort. Moreover, the link cannot arise at all without the previous level of conditions being present: no joy (pamojja) can arise without the prior existence of some degree of faith (saddha).
the nidanas of the wheel
Having contemplated the conditions for the arising of insight, we now turn our attention to the cyclic mode of conditionality. In imagination at least, we have recapitulated the process of entering the dhyanas, and now, using the following set of twelve cyclic nidanas as a framework, we turn our fully focused attention on to the nature of all conditioned things.
(1) and (2) In dependence upon
ignorance (avijja) arise karma-formations (sankharas).  This in a very general way summarizes the whole reactive, cyclic process. Because of the darkness and confusion which is inevitable when we do not know the Truth, influential predispositions, or `steering forces' are formed, and start wielding a conditioning influence upon consciousness.
(3) In dependence upon
karma-formations arises consciousness (vinnana).  This is the initial `spark' of consciousness which arises at conception.
(4) In dependence upon
consciousness arises the psychophysical organism (namarupa) - in other words, the mind and body (initially evolving in the womb).
(5) In dependence upon the
psychophysical organism arise the six sense organs (salayatana) - the body/mind's means of contact with an outside world.
(To summarize the process so far - due to unenlightened predispositions, an unenlightened mentality comes into being, complete with body and senses).
(6) In dependence upon the
six sense organs arises contact (phassa).  That is, actual contact between the senses and an outside world.
(7) In dependence upon
contact arises feeling (vedana).  When we contact the external world through our senses, there is always a feeling - which may be pleasant or unpleasant. Note that we covered some of this ground in Chapter Two.
(8) In dependence upon
feeling arises craving (tanha).  That is, craving tends to arise in the case of a pleasant feeling - it would be hatred or something similarly negative if the feeling was painful.
Once feeling has arisen, it is as though we are compelled to react with some emotion. However, as we saw earlier in our discussion of mindfulness, we can learn here to control our emotions and channel them positively. This nidana marks the crucial point of our experience, at which we either develop or decline spiritually. If we allow craving for pleasurable feeling to take hold (or hatred of painful feeling, or any unskilful emotion), we at once bind ourselves to the links of the Wheel which follow.  If, abandoning the temptation to react unskilfully, we cultivate the positive nidanas, we establish ourselves more firmly on the path to Enlightenment. What follows is what, unfortunately, we so often do.
(9) In dependence upon
craving arises attachment (upadana).  We become `hooked' on the experience, repeating it whenever opportunities arise.
(10) In dependence upon
attachment arises becoming (bhava).  The habit of repeating the experience becomes so entrenched that we `become' it - the habit becomes a definitive part of ourselves.
(11) In dependence upon
becoming arises birth (jati).  The character of our next life is determined by those entrenched habits.
(12) In dependence upon
birth arise old age and death (jara-marana).  This is an overall ‘take’ on cyclic conditioning: since we have been born into an impermanent body, its dissolution is inevitable.
Then, as well as contemplating the arising of our existence, we contemplate how, if the previous conditions were not present, each stage would dissolve.
Upon the cessation of
birth, old age and death cease.
Upon the cessation of
becoming, birth ceases.
Upon the cessation of
attachment, becoming ceases.
Upon the cessation of
craving, attachment ceases.
Upon the cessation of
feeling, craving ceases.
Upon the cessation of
contact, feeling ceases.
Upon the cessation of
the six sense organs, contact ceases.
Upon the cessation of
the psychophysical organism, the six sense organs
Upon the cessation of
consciousness, the psychophysical organism ceases.
Upon the cessation of
karma-formations, consciousness ceases.
Upon the cessation of
ignorance, karma-formations cease.
This completes the contemplation of the cyclic nidanas.
the rest of the spiral nidanas
So having fully explored `things as they really are', we then return to the spiral path and contemplate, at least in imagination, the stages leading from that initial insight towards full Enlightenment.
(9) In dependence upon
knowledge and vision of things as they really are arises withdrawal (nibbida).  The grip of attachment is loosened through insight, and it becomes possible to take a broader perspective.
(10) In dependence upon
withdrawal arises disentanglement (viraga).  As we dwell in that perspective, it becomes possible for us to remove all the conditions from our life which obstruct the further development of insight.
(11) In dependence upon
disentanglement arises freedom (vimutti).  This is the initial Enlightenment experience; we become free from all obstruction.
(12) In dependence upon
freedom arises knowledge of the destruction of the biases (asavakkhayanana).  We clearly know that we are completely free. We have gained full Enlightenment, or Buddhahood.

(Process of Integration towards dhyana)
dissatisfaction arises faith (sraddha )
joy (pramodya )
rapture (priti )
calm (prashrabdhi )
bliss (sukha )
concentration (samadhi )

knowledge and vision of things as they really are
(yathabhutajnanadarshana )

(Phase of arising)
ignorance (avidya) arise karma-formations (samskaras)
consciousness (vijnana )

the psychophysical organism (namarupa )

the six sense organs (sadayatana )

contact (sparsha )

feeling (vedana )

craving (trsna )

attachment (upadana )

becoming (bhava )

birth (jati )

old age and death (jara-marana )

birth, old age and death cease
becoming, birth ceases

attachment, becoming ceases

craving, attachment ceases

feeling, craving ceases

contact, feeling ceases

the six sense organs, contact ceases

the psychophysical organism, the six sense organs cease

consciousness, the psychophysical organism ceases

karma-formations, consciousness ceases

ignorance, karma-formations cease

withdrawal (nirveda )
(vairagya )

(vimukti )

knowledge of the destruction of the biases (asravaksayajnana )
In dependence upon faith arises In dependence upon joy arises In dependence upon rapture arises In dependence upon calm arises In dependence upon bliss arises
FIRST  OF TRANSCENDENTAL SPIRAL NIDANASIn dependence upon concentration arises
CYCLIC NIDANASIn dependence upon
In dependence upon karma-formations arises
 In dependence upon consciousness arises
 In dependence upon the psychophysical organism arise
 In dependence upon the six sense organs arises
 In dependence upon contact arises
 In dependence upon feeling arises
 In dependence upon craving arises
 In dependence upon attachment arises
 In dependence upon becoming arises
 In dependence upon birth arise
(Dissolution Phase begins)Upon the cessation of
Upon the cessation of
 Upon the cessation of
 Upon the cessation of
 Upon the cessation of
 Upon the cessation of
 Upon the cessation of
 Upon the cessation of
 Upon the cessation of
 Upon the cessation of
 Upon the cessation of
REST OF SPIRAL NIDANASIn dependence upon knowledge and vision of things as they really are arises
In dependence upon withdrawal arises
 In dependence upon disentanglement arises
 In dependence upon freedom arises


Note: the contemplation of the cyclic process of conditionality that is done after reflecting on 'knowledge and vision of things as they really are' is designed to give an overview of the entire samsaric process. This overview underlines the unsatisfactory nature of samsara and provides the fuel for the withdrawal, disentanglement and freedom of the final phase of the transcendental path.  Sometimes, though, the purpose of the reflection on the cessation phase of the cyclic nidana series is misunderstood in a way that is potentially dangerous.
In particular, we should not read into reflections such as 'upon the cessation of feeling, craving ceases', and 'upon the cessation of contact, feeling ceases' the idea that this cessation is something to be cultivated as part of the spiritual path. We are not aspiring to the cessation of the processes of feeling, contact, or consciousness. The point is simply to analyse more deeply the conditioned nature of things, seeing that since feeling depends on sense-contact, the absence of contact must necessarily mean the absence of feeling. Though it is true that the cessation of feeling means the cessation of craving, and that the cessation of craving is crucial for spiritual development, it would be wrong to conclude that one should therefore strive to cease feeling anything. It is in fact impossible to do so - as the remaining cyclic nidanas demonstrate. But unfortunately it is possible to distance ourselves from feeling, to alienate ourselves so that we experience less feeling. Since spiritual development depends on the cultivation of positive emotion, which depends on acknowledging feeling, such alienation would create serious obstacles to further progress.
other methods of meditation
In the 2,500 years since the days of the Buddha, meditation has been greatly adapted and developed. Many more methods are practised throughout the Buddhist world. Among the most important of these are Visualization, Just Sitting, and Walking Meditation.
visualization meditation
In Buddhism a large number of meditation practices use imaginative visualization. Here is a typical visualization practice, the meditation upon Green Tara.
visualization of the female bodhisattva green tara
Imagine that in every direction, to infinity, you see nothing but the deepest, most transparent, blue sky. You also experience yourself as void and empty, of exactly the same nature as that infinite blue. That emptiness, and that infinity, invests you with a sense of wonder and profound inspiration. You are experiencing your own mind in its greatest clarity and calmness; at the same time you are contemplating the ultimate voidness that is its true nature.
After a while you become aware of something which expresses this in imaginative form: it is a letter, made of the softest green light, glowing and vibrating in your heart centre. It is the Sanskrit letter tam, and it stands upon a horizontal disc of silvery light like the full moon. You imagine the tam visually, and you can also hear the primordial sound-syllable which it represents.
The moon mat is in the calyx of a tiny flower - a lotus blossom, made of pure light - and the lotus is in the heart of a goddess, the beautiful and gently smiling Bodhisattva Tara. She is the quintessence of compassion - and she is also you.
You are Tara. Seated cross-legged as though in meditation, but with her right foot outstretched as though ready to rise to aid some troubled being, Tara is dressed in the silks and ornaments of a princess. Her right palm is opened outwards upon her knee in a gesture of giving. Her left is at her heart, its fingers expressing some quintessential point of Dharma. As you sit, and as the vision unfolds out of the voidness, you feel as though you yourself are formed of light, transparent and empty.
Around the tam at your heart, the letters of Tara's mantra (which contain her entire symbolic meaning, and which are associated with quickly-responding compassion) begin to revolve anti-clockwise. Peacefully listening, you can hear the sound of her mantra, Om tare tuttare ture svaha…  Om tare tuttare ture svaha…  Om tare tuttare ture svaha…, over and over again.
From the letters, which stand erect and dance gracefully around the seed-syllable, emerges a diaphanous rainbow radiance. Rainbows curl upwards and downwards like incense smoke, and slowly your whole body, outwardly Tara, inwardly fills with rainbow light. After a while her/your body is so pervaded with light that the rainbows overflow. From the crown of your head they emerge, eightfold, and at the tip of each rainbow is the tiny figure of a goddess, bearing an offering: water, flowers, lights, incense, perfume, delicious fruit, refreshing drinks, and music. The eight goddesses rise upwards, presenting their offerings to the zenith, far above your head.
As the rainbow light continues to rise there begins to pour down, from above, the purest snow-white light - pouring down in a stream of blessing which descends onto the crown of your head and enters your body. It flows into your heart, into the tam. And from your responding heart, the rays of light now flow outwards, towards all living beings - who are gathered, you now notice, all around you. You are sitting in the midst of a great multitude of beings, which stretches to infinity, all quietly reciting the Tara mantra, Om tare tuttare ture svaha. Over and over again the mantra sounds, as the rays of light rise up from Tara's heart, as the rays of blessing pour down upon her heart and then out to help and heal the sufferings of all living beings.
visualization in the context of samatha and vipassana
This might seem to be a very different kind of meditation from the ones we have encountered up until now. In a way it is, but it still involves the elements we have been discussing. It still involves concentration, positive emotion, and reflection on the Dharma. The main difference is in the rich imaginative visualization.
This kind of visualization practice incorporates elements of both samatha and vipassana. Samatha is built up through concentration on the visualization and repetition of the mantra, the rich imagery helping to develop positive emotion. Many of these sadhanas, as they are often termed, also include the development of metta and the Brahma-viharas as a preliminary stage. There will often be a specific vipassana reflection, perhaps on shunyata, as a preliminary.
But the main vipassana elements are introduced through the medium of the visualization and its imagery. This is done in a number of different ways. Vipassana can be developed, for example, by reflecting on the conditioned nature of the visualization itself. An experienced meditator will be able to create a visualization that becomes very vivid indeed, yet he or she knows that it is all a mental creation; it has all been deliberately fashioned out of the void. A sadhana may incorporate Dharma verses which encapsulate insight in words which can be reflected upon; other elements of the practice will also contain insights in symbolic form. The clear blue sky from which the image emerges, for example, symbolizes the ultimate `void' potentiality of all things; the mantra has an inner symbolic meaning which can be learned through constant reflection and repetition. The expression of the visualized image - hand gestures, form, clothing, etc. - all have symbolic significance, awareness of which grows and impresses itself on the mind over years of daily practice.
Without reflections such as these the practice remains a samatha practice, the beauty of the mantric sound, together with the form and colour, serving to integrate the mind and induce the rich calm of the dhyana state. Vipassana is brought into play when the visualization is `embroidered' with discursive reflection on one of the vipassana elements within the sadhana.
the magic of archetypal images
The whole field of visualization practice is very large and complex. To us in the West, certain aspects, such as peculiarly Tibetan forms of visualization, may be obscure and difficult to relate to. It seems clear, however, that we naturally respond in a very positive way to certain archetypal images. In time, perhaps the traditional Buddhist visualization practices will incorporate images which arise out of our own cultural context - perhaps from our own mythology. This happened, for example, when Buddhism went from India to China and Japan. Some forms of visualization practice would therefore seem to have an important future in Buddhist meditation in the West.
visualization in relation to the buddha's original teaching - the forty methods
How, then, did visualization develop from the original teaching? So far as we can tell, the Buddha never explicitly taught visualization meditation in this way. He presented forty methods of meditation, known as the kammathanas or `work-places'.

(Concentration upon discs of various colours – described in brief below)
(Stages of decomposition of corpse - as in Impermanence meditation)
 1. Buddha
 2. Dharma
 3. Sangha (Community of practitioners of Dharma) 
 4. Ethics
 5. Generosity
 6. The Gods
 7. Death
 8. The Body (Mindfulness of the body)
 9. Breathing (Mindfulness of Breathing meditation)
10. Enlightenment
(Metta-bhavana meditation plus Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha)
(the Arupa-dhyanas)
(an antidote to craving) 
(similar to Six Element practice) 

10 Kasinas
10 Impurities
10 Recollections
4 Brahmaviharas
4 Formless Spheres
Reflection upon the loathsomeness of food
Analysis of the Four Elements


kasina meditations
Apart from the reflection upon loathsomeness of food (an antidote to craving), we have already touched on most of these practices in one way or another.
The first ten kammathanas are varieties of the kasina meditations that were given as an example in Chapter Four. The inner perception of colour was used as a means of developing concentration and integration even in the earliest days of Buddhist meditation. Pure colour and light figure prominently in descriptions of mystical experiences of all spiritual traditions, and Buddhism is no exception.
recollection of the buddha
The Tara meditation just described is one example out of thousands of subjects for visualization meditation, each one arising out of some meditator's visionary experience of enlightened qualities, seen in the form of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
65 Visualization of these Buddha- and Bodhisattva-forms, like visualization generally, seems to have a specific origin in the kammathanas - and, no doubt, in the `visions' of the Buddha seen by his disciples during his lifetime.
If we think strongly about a quality such as metta or compassion, we will actually evoke it in our mind. By recollecting the qualities of the Buddha, we may bring about a small reflection of his greatness in ourselves. And in creating this intense imagination of the Buddha's qualities, the meditator will probably imagine a visual image of him - this is probably how visualization practices developed.
The first of the Ten Recollections is the recollection of the Buddha. The practice involves calling the Buddha's qualities to mind with some traditional verses:

Iti'pi so bhagava araham samma-sambuddho
Vijja-carana sampanno sugato
Loka-vidu, annuttaro purisa-damma-sarati
Sattha deva-manussanam buddho bhagava-ti
Such indeed is He, the richly endowed: the free, the fully
and perfectly awake;
Equipped with knowledge and practice, the happily attained,
Knower of the worlds - guide unsurpassed of men to be tamed,
The Teacher of gods and men, The Awakened One richly endowed.

visualization of the six element stupa
There is a visualization of pure two- or three-dimensional geometrical forms which is very akin to the kasina meditations. This is the visualization of the stupa, a symbolic representation of the six elements. The stupa is also symbolic of the Buddha's Enlightenment, and as such is often erected in the East as a monument-like shrine.
The stupa visualization is generally a samatha practice, though clearly there are aspects which can be employed for vipassana reflection. (There is obviously an association with the Six Element Practice, the vipassana meditation mentioned earlier.)
(1) Consciousness. In the first stage, visualize an infinite blue sky, representing consciousness.
(2) Earth. When you have established this, imagine, in the centre of the sky ahead, a bright yellow cube (or square if you are visualizing in two dimensions). This represents the element earth.
(3) Water. Next imagine a pure white globe (or disc), above the yellow cube. This represents the element of water.
(4) Fire. Above the globe, imagine a bright red cone (or triangle), representing the element of fire.
(5) Air. Then, above the cone, imagine a saucer-shape (or crescent) of a delicate pale green, which represents the element air.
(6) Space. At the top of the stupa imagine an iridescent `jewel drop', scintillating with all the colours of the rainbow. This represents the element of space.
The elements of the stupa, having been built up, are then slowly dissolved one by one. The jewel drop dissolves down into the saucer-shape, the saucer-shape into the cone, the cone into the globe, the globe into the cube, and the cube into the blue sky. Finally, the blue sky itself gradually fades, bringing the practice to an end.

benefits of the stupa visualization
The stupa visualization has some special benefits. It can be a very good concentration exercise as a supplement to the Mindfulness of Breathing, especially if you are finding that practice a little dry. The stupa is colourful and attractive to concentrate upon; it engages the imagination.
As you get more deeply involved with it, you will find that the form of each element has a particular feeling quality of its own - for example the yellow cube, with its six sides, eight corners, and twelve edges, expresses something very different from the white sphere, which has one continuous `side', and no corners or edges whatsoever. Each colour also has a feeling quality; as you practise, you should be receptive to the way each of the forms, and each of the colours, are affecting you.
The stupa visualization is an excellent method of releasing, stimulating, and purifying your inner energies. Each of the elements of the stupa represents a particular mode of energy, with the grosser energies at the bottom, and subtler, more refined energies towards the top. If you like, you may visualize each element with these energies in mind.
The earth element represents static energy, energy which is blocked and obstructed: rigid, solidified, unworkable energy, at present unavailable. It is as though you are bound hand and foot, unable to move.
Like physical water, which can be sloshed around from side to side but naturally flows only downwards, the water element represents energy which is just a little free. It operates narrowly, within strict limits. It tends to swing between one extreme and another, between love and hate, hope and fear. It is not very flexible, being confined to a small circle of interests. It is as though you are no longer tied up but allowed to move freely within a tiny room.
The fire element represents the stage when your energy begins to move as it were upwards. Things start `happening' quite quickly - you are becoming liberated from the previous restrictions, and mental conflicts are being resolved. You are integrating previously unconscious, repressed, energies into consciousness, becoming inspired, entering higher states of consciousness. It is as though an opening had appeared in the roof of your room and you are able to float up and out of it by the power of your inspiration!
The air element represents energy which is not only freed in an upward direction but in all directions simultaneously, pouring inexhaustibly everywhere. It is as though you are so free that you can fly, not only upwards but everywhere at once, or as though you could multiply yourself into millions of bodies, each of which was travelling in a different direction towards infinity.
The space element represents energy which is in a different dimension altogether - it is the medium in which everything has so far taken place. Since you have become that medium, the same kind of analogy can no longer be applied - the imagination cannot easily encompass it.
just sitting meditation
`Just Sitting' is unique among meditation practices in that there is no object upon which to concentrate. We simply sit, mindfully experiencing the present moment.
applying the just sitting principle
Just Sitting is a formal meditation practice in itself, as we'll shortly see. It can also be seen as a principle to be applied within other meditation practices. An example of using Just Sitting as a principle could be preparing for a session of meditation by simply sitting quietly for ten or twenty minutes, tuning in and becoming more sensitive to ourselves. This enables us to disengage from the activities we have just left, take stock of our mental state, and consider how to work with it.
Another important application is to add a period of Just Sitting at the end of a session of meditation, in order to absorb its impact. Here we simply sit without trying deliberately to concentrate, but remaining mindful of the feeling tone of the experience, allowing it to be incorporated into ourselves. This allows us to disengage gently from meditation and make a smooth transition to ordinary activities.
the method of just sitting
The method of the Just Sitting practice itself is to remain as continuously mindful as possible. As we do this over a period of time, a general quality of concentration will develop as we get engaged with our bodily and mental states. This quality of concentration is more difficult to sustain than the usual method of bringing our mind back to one particular object. Yet difficult though it is initially, the method develops a broad and well-grounded quality of concentration which may include the whole breadth and depth of our experience.
If we are doing several sessions of meditation a day, it is a good idea to include some Just Sitting. When meditating on a specific object it is possible to find ourselves concentrating over-narrowly, in a way that does not fully acknowledge our broader dimensions. Just Sitting counteracts this tendency.
Whenever we find ourselves becoming distracted in the Just Sitting practice, we return to a general mindfulness rather than to a particular object. Of the four Foundations of Mindfulness, the most useful ones to remain in contact with are the body and feelings - especially the body, since it usually offers the most tangible and definite experience. Another way is to come back to awareness of breathing for a while, until concentration is re-established.
It is a good idea to set a time for the session: anything from fifteen to thirty minutes is fine as a start. This may sound rather short, but it seems best not to try for too long a session at first. If you feel like doing a lot of Just Sitting, it is usually more effective to have a number of short sessions.
Just Sitting may be practised with the eyes open or closed. With open eyes, you may find it helpful to sit facing a wall - preferably a blank, undecorated one (to avoid getting visually distracted)or place your gaze on a particular spot, say a metre away, on the floor.
Just Sitting develops samatha by maintaining awareness and integrating whatever arises into the practice. It is also very effective as a vipassana practice. Without an object, our concentration tends to build up around a continuous sense of `me’ - the experiencer. But the experience of sitting with this `me' eventually shows very clearly that it is something indefinite and fluid, not the concrete identity we usually assume. We realize that we cannot really identify with this `me', and so are able to widen and even transcend our notion of selfhood.
Our experience is the same with all the mental events which arise in the course of a session of Just Sitting. Since they are ultimately impermanent and insubstantial, we cannot identify with them either. We may see that both subjective and objective experience are devoid of any lasting nature. Everyone who meditates, even relatively new meditators, can benefit from this practice in some way - though a sound basis in the fundamental practices needs to be established first.
walking meditation
The Buddha spent the greater part of his life in the open air, and it seems from ancient records that a considerable portion of his time was taken up with mindful walking.
Walking meditation is a very useful variation to sitting practice, and an important method in its own right. The traditional way of practising is to find a straight path on a flat piece of ground, and walk mindfully up and down. An alternative method is to walk continuously in a circle.
Almost any of the practices that have been mentioned here can be adapted for walking meditation, though some are more suitable than others. The best are mindfulness of the body, mindfulness generally, Mindfulness of Breathing, Metta Bhavana, and simple vipassana reflection. Even apart from formal meditation methods, walking up and down is a very good way of relaxing and clarifying one's thoughts, and, like Just Sitting, it can also be used for consciously absorbing experiences, or as a preparation for meditation.
benefits of walking meditation
Mindful walking is an excellent practice. The regular, deliberate movement of walking has the effect of stimulating you physically while at the same time calming you down. It is ideal at times when sitting meditation would be difficult, for example if you are tired or emotionally unsettled.
Of course, the fact that you are moving your body also involves definite restrictions: for example it is not usually possible to concentrate very finely. In this respect walking meditation is rather like Just Sitting; the concentration is more generalized, since you are constantly experiencing the movements of your body and the environment in which you are walking. Concentration of this kind also requires a certain amount of time to build up: you need to allow at least fifteen or twenty minutes for your awareness to become established in any kind of continuity. Some people will find this initial period boring or unsatisfyingly distracted. However if you persevere your state of mind will change and you will eventually feel more inspired.
The walking speed you choose depends on your state of mind and the specific practice you are doing while you are walking. If you are feeling dull it may help to walk more briskly, if you are restless it may help to walk more slowly - though it generally seems to be a good idea to walk a little faster at first, and gradually slow your pace as you become more concentrated. If you are very concentrated, the pace may be reduced - right down, if you like, to an almost imperceptible movement.
Walking more slowly and deliberately can induce a deeper concentration, though this won't come automatically. Sometimes it is tempting to walk extremely slowly in an attempt to force a level of concentration for which you are not yet ready, but the likely result is that you become `stuck' in a narrow unfeeling concentration. It is important to maintain a breadth of mindfulness. So long as you do, you can move as slowly as you like - so long as you are physically relaxed and able to walk, even at your snail's pace, in a free, natural manner. If you feel tense, it may help to walk faster for a while and let the tension dispel itself.
Walking meditation is ideal when you feel like meditating but do not have a quiet room and a cushion immediately available. At work, for example, if you have half an hour to spare at lunch time, you could try using it for walking up and down a quiet street or corner of a park. In other circumstances walking meditation is useful when you do not feel like meditating, as when you are very agitated or restless.
Walking meditation can have a soothing, integrating effect. It can also have an invigorating effect that can transform slothful mental states. Or again you may be getting on very well with your sitting meditation - perhaps you are on an intensive meditation retreat - but your aching limbs will not allow you to sit any longer. In that situation it can be very useful to alternate periods of sitting with periods of walking meditation.
adapting different meditation methods to walking practice
Taking that example of a lunch period, the best practice to choose would probably be to re-establish awareness of the four Foundations of Mindfulness. If you are agitated, with a lot on your mind, then a gentle Metta Bhavana, or mindful walking up and down, could be recommended.
On a meditation retreat, you could choose practices to complement your sitting meditations. Reflection, for example, is a very good application of walking meditation, whether in the cinta-maya panna sense or in the full vipassana sense. In the latter case, you could use the first ten or twenty minutes to establish concentration - if you are practising intensively, you may be able to establish yourself in access concentration - and then you can start turning over some point of Dharma in your mind. For example, the impermanence of the body might be introduced as a theme.
using mindfulness of the body as a `lead in'
Mindfulness of the body makes a very good `lead in' to walking meditation. Mindfulness can be established in a general way by simply walking up and down - or round and round - at a comfortable pace, not too fast or slow. Then, once you are used to walking, you can begin taking your attention to your feet as each takes the weight of your body, one foot after the other. In your experience of each individual footfall you may experience the transfer of weight from heel to toe, and feel the changing sensations in the sole.
As you become accustomed to paying attention to the changing sensations, you may gradually become more concentrated and relaxed, in just the same way as in sitting meditation.
This method of taking awareness to the point of contact with the floor has, quite literally, a `grounding' effect, and is something you can return to whenever you become distracted. Once concentration is established in your feet, you can incorporate more parts of your body in to your mindfulness. Working up from your feet, experience the shift of weight in your ankles, calves, knees, thighs; then in the whole of each leg. Then you can move your attention to your pelvis, so that as you shift your weight from one leg to the other you will feel your pelvis supporting the free leg as it swings forward. You can also experience all the muscular adjustments which take place in your spinal column, and all the supporting muscles of your back, as they compensate for the change in weighting with each step. Finally, you can experience the subtler shifts in muscular adaptation in your head and neck.
You could take ten minutes or more to build up this awareness of your body, and then start to experience your body and its movements more as a whole. Once that is established, you could experience yourself less in terms of sensation and relaxation, and more in terms of movement. While you are still walking in a completely natural, relaxed manner, the meditation now becomes more dance-like - you experience yourself more in terms of a changing physical shape moving through space.
Then, having developed awareness of your body, you could move through the other Foundations of Mindfulness. At the same time as you experience the sensations of movement, you can also give attention to whatever feelings are present. You will be feeling pleasant and painful feelings at different times; each different sensation will have its own feeling tone. Having tuned into your feelings, you can then become aware of your emotional responses, and note the thoughts which are entering and leaving your consciousness. `Noting' is the best approach here generally, since there is such an enormous amount of experience going on: if you try to remain continuously aware of each aspect of your experience you may just become tense. You should simply be aware that physical and mental states are arising and passing away.
You could do this in terms of the six elements, being mindful of the earth, water, fire, air, space, and consciousness elements in successive stages. The element of consciousness could be experienced as above, in terms of feeling, emotion, and thought, or, as an alternative, in terms of the senses. You could go through the sensations of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch which arise, aware both of the feelings which arise in dependence on these and your emotional response.
This could be a samatha, or `mindfulness' practice. But if your concentration is very strong it could eventually turn into a vipassana meditation. For example, you could contemplate the impermanence of each element and each sensation as it arises; or you could contemplate the way your feelings, emotional responses, and thoughts are dependent on the sensations aroused by the contact of your body with the outside world.